Recapping the 2020 Robert G. Hisaoka Speaker Series: Founders Panel

As part of the Robert G. Hisaoka Speaker Series, The Dingman Center for Entrepreneurship hosted a Founder’s Panel that featured three incredible Terp entrepreneurs on February 18, 2020. 

FoundersPanel1

by: Hannah Shraim ’20

Jasmine Snead ’17, MPP/MBA ’21, Zeki Mokhtarzada ’00, and Rob McGovern ’83 comprised our first Founders Panel composed entirely of Terp entrepreneurs. Together, they shared the trials and triumphs of their entrepreneurial journeys, offering invaluable advice to our wonderful audience of students, faculty, staff and alumni. If you missed it, don’t worry — we got you covered with a recap below. 

Jasmine Snead

Co-Founder and CFO at Aurora Tights

Snead

Jasmine Snead is a co-founder of Aurora Tights, an athletic apparel brand for performers in all shades and sizes. Growing up as a figure skater of color, Jasmine was disappointed with the lack of options for performance tights in her skin tone. Witnessing so many of her peers experience the same problem, Jasmine decided to create a solution through Aurora Tights. In just one year, Jasmine grew the company from an idea to the winner of the 2019 Pitch Dingman Competition. A proud triple Terp, Jasmine received her bachelor’s degree in Government and Politics and is now a joint MPP/MBA ’21 candidate at the University of Maryland. 

Challenges Faced: 

One of the biggest challenges Jasmine faced when she was first on the come-up includes overcoming her lack of retail experience. It took time for Jasmine to understand the retail figures needed to supply the high demand she encountered for her beautifully hued tights. 

Key Quote & Advice: “Make your business intentional.”

Jasmine knows a great deal about passion when it comes to starting a business. She experienced the problem that her customers face, and as such, is passionate about providing performance wear that inspires women to compete comfortably in their skin. Jasmine advised us to keep that passion going when struggles inevitably surface, especially when first launching a venture, because that is what will motivate you to propel your business forward. 

Zeki Mokhtarzada

CTO of Tenovos, Co-founder of Truebill, Co-founder of Webs, Inc.

Mokhtarzada

A Computer Science and Mathematics graduate from the class of 2000, Zeki Mokhtazarda has experience founding numerous ventures. The tech-driven Terp helped create the world’s first web-based operating system at the height of the dot com boom in 1999. The next year, Zeki and his brothers founded FreeWebs, a platform that offers digital problems to small businesses. FreeWebs (later called Webs) was acquired by Vistaprint in 2011, and Zeki later co-founded Truebill, a subscription management tool that helps consumers discover and cancel unwanted subscriptions. Zeki also serves as an advisor and investor to several early stage technology companies. He is currently the CTO of Tenovos. 

Challenges Faced: 

During the panel, Zeki mentioned how difficult yet rewarding it can be to be the first-mover in a particular industry. He felt as though he was breaking ground during the dot com boom, which inspired and excited him to continue. In fact, he started his company creating simple websites for his friends that he eventually charged for. Notwithstanding, breaking new ground comes with many unknowns, and Zeki had to take it upon himself to complete the necessary research to survive in his industry of choice. 

Key Quote & Advice: “We need a level of perspective on the risk of talking about our ideas. The risk of not getting a patent versus the risk of not getting the company on the ground…we have got to get these companies off the ground.”

Zeki sheds light on an important component of entrepreneurship, where many founders are often reluctant to share the fundamental idea of their company out of fear that the idea will be stolen. Instead, he champions fearless confidence, wherein ideas are shared so that founders may receive feedback and rupture their assumptions. Zeki reminds us that ideas are only ideas in our heads, but spoken ideas can bring a venture to fruition. 

Rob McGovern

Founder and CEO of PreciseTarget, Founder and former CEO of Careerbuilder

McGovern

Rob McGovern is a serial entrepreneur who launched his career at age 35 with Careerbuilder.com and grew the company to 400 employees. He initially took Careerbuilder public — then, he and a dedicated group took it private for $250 million in 2000. McGovern has serious insights from an entrepreneurial and life perspective. After suffering from a severe car accident in 2009, he almost faced the end of his life and had to relearn many basic functions that we may take for granted today. After Careerbuilder.com, McGovern founded Jobfox, then went on to found an artificial intelligence company called Cobrain in 2013, which became PreciseTarget in 2016. He has also authored two books and served on the boards of many public and private companies.

Challenges Faced: 

Rob emphasized the difficult quest for funding he underwent when he started his first company. Looking back at his journey he said, “I’m an experienced entrepreneur, but it’s never easy. The greatest gap between a great idea and your customer is a checkbook.” Still, equipped with passion and dedicated, Rob was able to persevere and make a name for his company. 

Key Quote and Advice: 

“Invest in the startup companies that have the courage to pivot.” – Rob McGovern 

The main takeaway from Rob’s insights is that as a unit, a venture should provide solutions to their customers’ problems. This mantra may require pivoting, which can be very uncomfortable for many entrepreneurs, especially those who are passionate about pursuing their venture through a certain lens. Yet, Rob emphasized that it is essential to pivot based on customer needs — because without them, really, what’s this all for? 

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